Design Ecosystem in Moscow

{ 🇷🇺 } – Russia’s Creative Capital

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In the last edition of our Design Ecosystem series in 2018, we took a look at one of the most engaged design communities in the world: San Francisco. Now we’re jumping into 2019 with our take on Moscow, where we had an opportunity to talk about Phase during last year’s Mail.ru Design Conference.

We reached out to designers based in the city to learn more about it and get a closer look at the local design community. Here’s an inside take on what we discovered!

The Development of Design in Moscow

Moscow is probably the best city in Russia to start your career in design. As Andrey Torus told us: “Moscow is great for the design work regardless of your professional level. It’s an economic and intellectual center, attracting many ambitious Russian-speaking people, which all bring in their ideas, knowledge, and skills.”

“In Moscow, it’s easy to find both the likeminded individuals to work with and the clients: starting small businesses, which might be fit for beginning designers, to local industry giants like Yandex and Mail.ru, as well as global companies like Google, Microsoft, IBM, and others.” – Andrey adds.

Digital design in the capital of Russia is pretty well established. It had to overcome exactly the same issues as other markets in the past: “Product design, for Moscow and even for the whole world, is a relatively new field. Not only designers have to adjust and learn about it, but also the businesses. And the latter is definitely taking more time. That is why the day-to-day of product designers is quite different in different companies.” – says Sergey Dmitriev.

“There is a difference in the responsibility put on the designers. Startups/small companies give product designers more flexibility and autonomy, whereas in big companies it’s harder to impact the final look and feel of the product.”

Yuriy Vetrov, Head Of Design at Mail.ru, looks at design in Moscow in the same way: “The demand for product designers developed at the same time as in the other countries – about 7-8 years ago; thus Russia is at the very good level. Of course, there are not as huge design budgets to spend here as in Silicon Valley, but what we have is enough for the rapid industry growth.”

A difficult obstacle to overcome for Russian design is the strong focus on building products for the local market. As Yuriy explains: “Thanks to the Internet we are getting all the same information simultaneously with the rest of the world. And thus we’re using all the same practices, methodologies and tools as the companies in Europe or US.

We might have a lower depth of applying those, and the reason here is the lack of motivation due to the focus on the local market. I am a frequent visitor at the international conferences, to make sure there’s no lag at all, and at my design team, we’ve been pretty successful at that.”

As Yuriy pointed out, even though the Russian design industry is focused mostly on the local market, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t follow Western standards and Konstantin Smirnov agrees here: “I’ve been working in the IT field for more than 5 years, and the product approach to design becomes more popular every year. Many companies are beginning to realize (thank God) that they need to pay more attention to the development and design of their services.”

Panorama of Moscow's city center
Panorama of Moscow’s city center

The State of Digital Design in Moscow

For those focused on Western design markets, the size of the overall industry in Moscow and Russia might come as a shock. There are plenty of big, successful companies that you may have heard about. We asked Yuriy Vetrov to give us a better picture of it:

“The industry is heating up. There are multiple strong companies and design teams here working on the products of an international level. I usually split the market into 4 categories:

Product companies. Few of Europe’s biggest ones are based here, like Mail.ru and Yandex, both with 150 mln+ MAU and design teams counting a few hundred designers. They know the local audience well and thus are defeating their competitors. There are global-scale products built here: ABBYY, Acronis, Kaspersky, Parallels.

Few other large and mid-level companies that are doing great stuff are 2GIS, Avito, Rambler & Co, СКБ Контур, Skyeng. The design tools are being built here too, among them Readymag and Tilda. Moscow is not the only city in Russia with a strong ecosystem, some companies have teams in other cities, like Realtimeboard, Wrike; few others also have offices in Western Europe and the US — Aviasales, Badoo.

Design studios. There are some great agencies here working on good projects: Agima, AIC, Creative People, Nimax, Notamedia, ONY, Possible, Red Keds, Redmadrobot, Chulakov Studio.
Consulting and outsourcing companies. EPAM and IBM are quite big here.

Startups. There’s a market here, but I’m less familiar with it. The two startups worth mentioning are Coub and Plazius.

Traditional businesses. There are solid design teams in banks and fintech companies (fintech is less regulated and more dynamic): Alfa Bank, Qiwi, Rocketbank, Sberbank, Tinkoff, Tochka. Telecom companies are investing in the design quite a lot: Beeline, Megafon, Tele2, and Yota. There are of course quite a few other companies that are doing well at design.

The unique thing about the market here is that it’s big enough for many companies to work just with the local audience. That is both a good thing (easier to compete) and a bad thing (many are limiting themselves). That’s one of the reasons why you won’t hear much about Russian design outside of the country — there’s no critical need to expand into the global markets.

I am curating one of the courses at the Future London Academy. We are regularly visiting British design teams, which allows comparing our market with the European one. The summary is that product companies in Russia are among the strongest in Europe; agencies are good, but since the market is younger, there are fewer great ones; the traditional business is relatively at the same level.”

Skyscrapers in Moscow
So many skyscrapers!

Mail.ru, Yuriy’s employer, is one of the most exciting companies based in Moscow. As he explains:

“The company consists of completely autonomous business units, each with its own design team. There is a total of around 100 digital designers in the company (product designers, graphic designers, illustrators, 3D-artists, UX researchers). Seven years ago we’d opened the UX research lab, one of the strongest in Russia.

I am managing a few design teams, which will soon total 25 people. Thus, there are definitely open positions here at all times. We are responsible for 25 products: productivity services, media projects, search, browser. We are also managing a few brands: Mail.ru (products), Mail.ru Group (holding), and My.com. We have a robust approach to the design strategy in the company, I’ve covered it in a series of posts at UXmatters.”

They also host Russia’s biggest design conference, which grew out of a small Dribbble-focused meetup. The event is now visited by thousands of designers:

“We started it as a Dribbble Meetup for 70 people in 2012. Since then it’s grown to 1000 attendees and 20 000 online viewers. – says Yuriy. It’s one of the three largest in the country design conferences. For us, it’s become a powerful boost to employer branding, and for the attendees – a great opportunity to learn lots of new stuff. The conference touches upon various aspects of the product design: starting with the methods and practices of interface design, and ending with branding and digital illustrations.”

Moscow's Tokyo-vibes
Moscow’s Tokyo-vibes

Design Education in Moscow

A fast-growing community needs resources and easy access to more knowledge. That being said, the design education in Moscow is great. “There have recently appeared many courses and educational programs where the beginner-designers can build up their skills: Bang Bang, British Higher School Of Design, Contented, Geekbrains, Netologia, Skillbox, HSE Art and Design School and many smaller ones” – Yuri Vetrov lists. “They all help to provide for the growing market demand, offering the full range of options: intensive courses, annual programs, online courses.”

Konstantin also recommends checking out online courses like Skillbox: “It seems like most people are studying online these days, as you can find a course on absolutely any topic, including design. I got interested in the courses by Skillbox, they’re offering the whole program which includes the basics of a few design specializations: UX, UI, animations etc. I’m now in progress studying and been having great results so far. What’s most important is a systematic approach and regular exercises. One more important thing – there must be a mentor who would advise on what to improve.”

If learning online isn’t your thing, Sergey suggests trying your luck in smaller companies: “There are more and more courses popping up, but I personally don’t believe in their effectiveness. My best teachers have been the business owners, investors, and entrepreneurs that I’ve been working with. When you’re working with the stakeholders directly, you’re constantly talking about the business, its effectiveness, development.

The brain starts to adjust and you turn into the real product designer. The design starts to be much more than a way to express yourself, it starts being a tool to grow a business. That is why I believe it’s better to work in a small company, collaborating with business owners, read books about business and effectiveness.”

More European-looking part of Moscow
More European-looking part of Moscow

Places to Work in Moscow

If you’re a freelancer or you’re just looking for an inspiring place in the city to work from, Moscow won’t disappoint you. For a great cup of coffee and a working spot, be sure to stop by Double B, LES, Cooperative Chernyi, or West 4. If more conventional coworking spaces are your thing, then WorkStation, DI Telegraph, and Gravity are among the most-recommended spots. Konstantin also mentioned Tablica, which  – “is close to the city center and [Mendeleevskaya] metro station.”

Andrew had a few recommendations for us as well: “There are multiple co-working spaces in Moscow, which had popped up in the “creative districts”, previously the factory territories. Some of the most popular among them are Vinzavod, Artplay, and Flakon. The work-seat at coworking spaces is usually rented for minimum a week of time, the prices on average begin from $40 for a week. Some coworking spaces allow you to spend your first day free there.”


And that’s a peek into Moscow’s design ecosystem. As always, we look forward to hearing more about living and working as a designer in different cities from you – you’re welcome to reach out to us on Twitter! We also created a list of cool designers based in different cities we’ve covered – be sure to check it out.


If you want to contribute to next the issue of Phase Magazine, just drop us a line:

Daniel Marcinkowski Avatar

Daniel Marcinkowski / Content & Community Manager @ Phase

Spending some time on doing cool things! ✌️ Podcaster, UI/UX Designer, blogger, tech and coffee geek. From Warsaw, living in Berlin.

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